By Brad Meyer
One Houston area is demonstrating a unique commitment to helping its children grow up to be well-educated and productive citizens through family oriented programs and charitable activities that bring community needs and solutions together.
Created in 2011, Cy-Hope is a distinctive grassroots organization created to benefit children and families associated with the Cy-Fair Independent School District who are economically, relationally or spiritually disadvantaged. The umbrella organization oversees a variety of charitable and support programs to nourish the body, motivate the mind and give hope to children and families in the community.
“Cy-Fair ISD is the third largest in Texas with more than 115,000 students,” said Lynda Zelenka, executive director. “With nearly 50 percent of the students considered economically disadvantaged, a group of volunteers, community leaders and entrepreneurs got together and created Cy-Hope to make a difference in our community.”
The result is a multi-faceted nonprofit group that provides a wide range of support services for children and families in the Cy-Fair school district ? coordinating the efforts of existing groups, like the Houston Food Bank, and creating targeted programs that serve the needs of the community.
The Backpack Buddy Program is a good example. Each week, the Houston Food Bank delivers nearly seven tons of food to Cy-Hope for distribution to between 1,500 and 2,000 students whose families are economically challenged in 65 district schools. Volunteers organize and distribute the food in backpacks that students take home after school on Fridays to ensure they have food for the weekend. The backpacks are returned on Monday to be refilled for the following weekend.
“According to a recent Houston Food Bank survey, 87 percent of the participating parents noticed a positive improvement in their children’s health and 71 percent noticed an improvement in their child’s academic performance,” said Zelenka. “We have a community that cares about its kids and is willing to get actively involved in making a difference.”
Volunteers are a key to Cy-Hope’s success, according to Zelenka. “Some folks volunteer a few hours a month, some volunteer several days a week,” she said. “For volunteers looking to give back to the community or help our local youth, we can use your help.”
Following a successful career with a top Fortune 500 company and raising a family, Zelenka wanted to focus her energy on a higher calling. The concept for Cy-Hope came from a variety of individuals and organizations interested in offering assistance to children in need or at-risk.
“We’re faith based, but non-denominational,” said Zelenka. “We offer a way for those groups, individuals and businesses that want to help the community.”
Indeed, Cy-Hope offers a range of services for children and families in the district. Dierker’s Champs provides athletic instruction and opportunity to area kids under the direction of former Houston Astros All-Star pitcher Larry Dierker. Camp Lemonade provides camping opportunities at Stoney Creek Ranch to kids who would otherwise not have such an opportunity.
Devine Virtuosos is a branch of Cy-Hope composed of music educators who develop and implement social and educational music events. Hope Center are pilot programs in mobile home and apartment communities where children have access to tutoring, mentoring, snacks and recreation. At-risk kids can also receive scholarships to take Advanced Placement or Dual Credit courses for those headed to college or fees for vocational certifications.
“We also offer Cy-Hope Counseling which offers play therapy and counseling programs for children, adolescents, marriage, family, group therapy and autism spectrum disorders,” said Zelenka. “Services are provided on a sliding scale to give all families access to quality counseling.”
To accomplish these and the other programs provided by Cy-Hope, the organization relies on volunteers, donations and the support of the Cy-Fair businesses and charitable organizations ? the organization receives no financial support from governmental agencies. Cy-Hope has a picturesque nine-acre site that serves as its administration headquarters, staging area and support service center.
“We also have unique facilities on our grounds, including a remarkable reproduction of the Alamo, that can be rented by the public for meetings, parties and special events,” noted Zelenka. “It’s a great way for the public and private sector to invest in our community ? and have a great time doing it.”
One other resource, growing in popularity, is the Hope Chest Resale Market ? a 25,000-sq.ft. warehouse and shopping area that benefits Cy-Hope programs. The Cypress area “boutique-style” resale market features designer clothing and home décor as well as 7,000 sq. ft of furniture and outdoor equipment.
“People are pleasantly surprised when they see the quality is so much higher than a typical resale shop,” said Zelenka. “We are pretty picky about quality, so we have a growing number of supporters who check in frequently to see what’s new. It’s another way to support Cy-Hope and the overall community we serve.”
For information on Cy-Hope and the programs it offers for children and families, visit www.Cy-Hope.org or call 713-466-HOPE.